It's been mentioned here before, that 2005 was sort of like the preamble to the current era of the Mets. Although they were billed as "The New Mets," a phrase brought to us by Carlos Beltran, they were really a mixture of the junk leftover from the Phillips/Duquette regime (and Mike Piazza) and the new faces that Omar Minaya had brought in to try to create some excitement following several down years. The team had some bright new faces, but an overabundance of question marks and several holes, particularly in the right side of the infield and the bullpen (sound familiar?). Too many band-aids were used in favor of actual tangible solutions, and though there were some tantalizing moments, the Mets would ultimately fade out at the end of the season. As usual, this capsule was written shortly after the Mets were eliminated from the Wildcard race, and is presented to you unabridged and unedited. Current comments in italics.
With the Mets now officially eliminated, and the season coming to an end in a few days, and with all the e-mails flying around, it is now time for me to offer for the consideration of you all my annual Mets Team Capsule for 2005.
The 2005 Mets were uneven at best. There were hot streaks that were short-lived, and cold spells that came and went. The team hovered around .500 all season, basically living up to the expectations placed before them. Thing was, just about everyone else in the NL was hovering as well, and so the Wildcard never slipped too far out of reach. The team played well at home, although rarely in games that El Guapo and I went to, and poorly on the road (I believe my record for the season was 7-11. Far too often, it seemed, I would be going to games where the Mets just showed up because the schedule said they had to). But they always kept it interesting. And then they went to Arizona and San Francisco, and the bats lit up and the pitching was holding together, and all of a sudden, we were looking at meaningful games in September…And then the bottom fell out just as quickly (If you recall, the Mets went to Arizona in late August and absolutely pasted them in a 4-game sweep where they outscored the D-Backs 39-7. They came home and beat Philly on a late Castro HR, and were closing in on the Wildcard, and then they basically just fell apart). But just when it looked like the Mets would unravel completely as they did in the Uncle Art years, the Mets pulled it together and kicked some teams like Florida and Philly in the nuts, so that at least they wouldn’t get to the playoffs either (This was scant consolation, but at least Willie made sure they played out the string).
Overall, you have to think that they performed as expected. We didn’t think much more than .500, but then the team did just enough to entice us into believing there could be more. But that didn’t happen. There are still holes in the team that need to be filled, and questions that need to be answered before the team can make The Leap. The offseason will hold quite a bit.
Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for:
Willie Randolph – C+
Maybe I’m being a little tough on Willie. After all, it was his first year, and overall, he did OK. But that’s all he did. OK. He kept the team together, and they all played for him. But he showed his inexperience as a manager, and I think it was an issue most of the season. He botched the double switch in Cincinnati, he never got fired up, he insisted on keeping the same lineup, burying Wright down in the order most of the season, and don’t even get me started on the Bullpen. I do not, however, overlook the importance of how Willie got the team to rally around each other all season. It’s key, and hopefully the nucleus of the team will continue to grow together and the new parts will meld. But next season will be telling as to whether or not Willie will lead the team to the next level. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. (As we would see, Willie was able to lead the team to the next level in '06, but it seemed like once he got there, he forgot what he had done to get him there. It's unfortunate, but Willie never really was able to finish the job he started.)
Mike Piazza – B+
In all honesty, we couldn’t have expected much more from Mike this season. The years of catching have caught up with him, and as we learned from Gary Carter, once you fall off, you don’t come back, especially as a Catcher. But through it all, and through the uncertainty surrounding where he’ll be next year, Mike performed as he always had, with class and dignity and he still came up with a few big hits. And, guess what, he leads the NL in HRs and RBI by a Catcher.
With all that said, and again, we don’t know whether or not he’ll be back next year, but it is indeed time to take a step back and look at Mike’s place in History with the Mets and over his entire career. You can’t help but think about how May 22nd, 1998 will go down as a monumental day in Mets History, as the Mets acquired Piazza, and in turn, Piazza became one of the most important and beloved players the team has had. In addition to putting some fear into a lineup that, at the time, had Butch Huskey as its big power threat, he also brought credibility and excitement to a team that had spent most of the 1990s in a fog. And although in 1998, the team fell short, Mike was convinced that he wanted to spend the prime of his career in New York, and with the Mets. And in 1999 and 2000 he put the team on his back and carried them, willing them to wins time and again, battling through a thumb injury in the 1999 playoffs that likely would have put him on the DL had it not been the postseason, and though he struggled, he nailed a HR off Smoltz in the 6th game that erased deficits of 5-0 and 7-3, tied the game, and extended the game (and we don’t need to discuss the end), only coming out when he physically could not play any further. And remember how frustrated he was when that series ended? He ended up getting in his car and driving around the South for 3 weeks just to clear his head from all of it. And in 2000, he was the driving force behind what would be the hottest team in Baseball throughout the Summer, deserving of an MVP before a September swoon. But he rebounded in the playoffs, blasting a couple of key HRs vs. St. Louis, and leading the team in a victory lap around Shea Stadium when they won the NLCS. Or perhaps his most poignant moment, the HR against Atlanta in the first game back after 9/11. I remember being at that game and how the crowd went from listless to jubilant with the crack of his bat. Sure, 02, 03 and 04 were bad years, and Mike battled through a lot of injuries, and an ill fated position switch, but Mike kept his date with destiny when he broke Fisk’s HR record for Catchers and extended it through this season. (I'd lionized Piazza even back then. I had a feeling that too many people in my circle had gotten down on him after he'd had a few down years, but you can't ever overlook what he meant to the team. He made the Mets important again.)
I guess you could name them on one hand, impact players that took the Mets to another level. Guys like Seaver, Hernandez, perhaps Strawberry. Maybe Mike didn’t bring home a Championship, but even falling short, he couldn’t have brought us much more. Truly the greatest Met we have ever seen, and someday soon we’ll see his #31 hang in the left field corner in Shea. (This was, of course, when Bankruptcy Field was but a gleam in Fred Wilpon's beady eye.)
Ramon Castro – A
Castro shined all season in a backup role, and came up with a number of clutch hits. But he struggled offensively when he was pressed into a starting role. I wouldn’t count on him as the full time starter next year, which is why I’m a fan of, if Piazza will re-sign for a reasonable price, having them split time at C. Solid D all around. Also wins the award for the largest head in Mets history (This was before he'd proven himself incapable of staying healthy for a full season.).
Mike DiFelice – Because the Mets needed to fill their dirtbag thug quota for the season. Fortunately, he never played.
Doug Mientkiewicz – D
I’m disappointed. I really expected Dougie to have a better season. But his average was in the low .200s all season, although he did pop a few HRs here and there. His D was solid, but not the spectacular level he displayed in Minnesota. Also griped a little bit late when he was losing playing time, although he really didn’t deserve it (The playing time, not the lack thereof). Won’t be back.
Miguel Cairo – C
Cairo was great off the bench, but really spit the bit in a full-time role. He was able to cover it up playing in a loaded Yankee lineup but he was pretty bad and inexplicably continued to hit 2nd in the order. Even worse was his propensity to swing like he was trying to hit the ball off the Whitestone Bridge. We need a better full time 2B, but he’ll be good off the bench (Not sure where I was going with this. Cairo was .251/.296/.324 for the season and consistently looked terrible at the plate. I know he started because Matsui was either hurt or terrible, but even then, I can't believe I advocated keeping him after this season).
Kaz Matsui – F
Forget it. I worked with a fellow from Japan over the Summer, and when the show was over, I asked him if he could take Matsui back to Japan with him.
Jose Reyes – B+
As Fran Healy beat into our heads all season, “THE NEW YORK METS 22 YEAR OLD SHORTSTOP IS CREATING ALL KIND OF EXCITEMENT!” He really did too. Healthy for the first time in his career, Reyes was a major sparkplug, turning doubles into triples, and singles into doubles with his speed. Still needs to learn to work the count more, but I see no reason why he can’t do this. Also improving on Defense. If he can raise his walks and keep stealing bases, I don’t think we have to worry about SS for a while. Actually, either way, I don’t think we have to worry about SS for a while (We've since seen the best and worst from Reyes. He proved he could work a count, but this is a habit that seems to desert him at inopportune times).
David Wright – A-
The new face of the franchise. Period. Although his defense was spotty, he did tail off a bit late, and he took a number of good pitches, which only helped to solidify his reputation as a great 2-strike hitter, Wright’s first full season has to be regarded as a resounding success. Hit well over .300 for most of the season, over 20 HRs and close to 100 RBIs at age 22, and moronically buried at 6th or 7th in the order for the majority of the season. Has an uncanny ability to adjust to the situation while at the plate, and absolutely hammers mistake pitches. Once he matures, he’ll certainly hit higher in the order and a lot of those 2Bs will turn into HRs. Also plays defense with a reckless Lenny Dykstra-esque abandon, and will throw himself into the stands if he has to. He’s already the best pure hitter on the team, and you know he’s only going to bust his ass harder to get better as he continues. As I’ve said before, he stands a very good chance of breaking every meaningful Mets offensive record by the time he turns 30. I wouldn’t bet against him (I still wouldn't bet against him. He got his 100 RBI that season and has done so every year since. The numbers continue to go up, even if his failures have become more and more spectacular.).
Marlon Anderson – B
Lots of clutch pinch hits early on, plus a monumental inside-the-park HR off of Rodriguez in June. Fizzled out a bit when he, like Castro, was pushed into the starting lineup on a regular basis, but another one I really like coming off the bench (So they let him go and he was middling with Washington and LA. They brought him back in '07 and it was like he'd never left. So they retain him for '08 and he was horrible. Bottom line: What the hell do I know?).
Chris Woodward – B+
Woody was very much like Anderson. Came off the bench and played very well, and reminds us all of Super Joe, except that he can hit a little bit more.
Jose Offerman – D
El Guapo and I were at a game against Atlanta in July, and with Wright on 3rd, 2 outs, Atlanta up 3-2 and the pitchers spot coming up, we expected a pinch hitter. George says to me, “Who’s #35?” I reply. “Jose Offerman.” I then see him walking to the plate. “GOOD GOD, JOSE AWFULMAN!” Jose promptly shut me up by nailing a single to tie the game. That was pretty much it for Jose, who stuck around and played far more often than he ever should have been allowed to. Bonus points for pulling the idiot play of the season and running back to first on a rare Kaz Matsui single against Washington, with the crowd yelling “GO, GO, GO,” and El Guapo and I gouging our eyes out (That play might have been one of the single worst things I've ever witnessed on a ballfield. Matsui hit a clean single up the middle, so Offerman ran back to first and was thrown out at 2nd by 30 feet. That summed up the 2005 Mets.).
Mike Jacobs – A-
Sweet Swingin’ Jacobs came up and lit everyone on fire during the week in Arizona. Then he came back to earth and Willie then decided we would all be better off with the platoon system of Marlon Anderson and Jose Offerman at 1B, while Jacobs sat the bench. Finally, he played and did well again. Unless we get a bigtime gun at 1B, Jacobs deserves a real long look there (IE dealing him to Florida for Carlos Delgado). He’s going to play winter ball and work exclusively at 1B to improve his defense. I like his future (Still do, but he's another 100K season away from becoming a left handed Dave Kingman).
Brian Daubach – This would be the equivalent of the Red Sox calling up Roberto Petagine to solidify their bench. I wouldn’t trust Daubach to solidify anything except maybe a bowl of jello (Someone in my circle was really upset by this remark, and gave me a long speech about how Daubach could help the team, he just needed the chance to do so. I'm still waiting.).
Anderson Hernandez – I’d like to say he could go somewhere with the team except that Willie seems to refuse to play him (He did go somewhere. That somewhere was Washington).
Carlos Beltran – C-
True, the expectations on him were ridiculously high. And true, there was no way he was going to hit like he did in the Commie AL and in Houston and their ballpark on steroids. But still, Beltran never put together a solid offensive string. He showed signs of breaking out of it, and then would go 0-4 the next night. His clutch hits were too few and far between, and all too often, he would look meek in key spots. However, I point to one past case where a marquee player came to the Mets, struggled in key spots in his first year, pressed a lot, and was booed. He then came back the following year, settled down and posted a few monster seasons in a row. That was Mike Piazza. Maybe Beltran won’t put up Piazza numbers, but I’d be shocked if he didn’t rebound in a big way next season. Then again, I still have Baerga/Alomar nightmares…(He's been OK since then.)
Cliff Floyd – A-
Cliff is like the Corey Dillon of MLB. For years, Dillon was stuck as the lone good player on some awful Cincinnati teams and complained about it. He got a rap as a headache. Then he went to New England, won, and was highly regarded as a great clubhouse presence. Cliff is the same way. Injuries and bad teams over the past couple of years led Cliff to voice his displeasures. But healthy for the first time in years, and hitting at an unconscious pace early on, and Cliff won everyone back. True, he probably hit his ceiling this season, and true, he was very streaky, but now we know what he’s capable of if he’s healthy and protected in the lineup (notice how he hit a lot better with Wright behind him as opposed to Piazza/Mientkiewicz/Shemp) (Turned out that this was really Floyd's last hurrah. He was injured in '06 and by the end of the season looked like he was pretty much past it. Still, I was pretty sad to see him go and part of me has to think that he could have at least matched the production we got from Moises Alou, and probably would have played the same number of games.).
Mike Cameron – B
Mike had some marginally productive months in a season bookended by injuries, and ended by the ghastly collision in San Diego. He started off hot, then cooled, but he kept his strikeouts down, and performed well hitting out of the #2 spot. Still, may be the odd man out in a crowded OF, and could very well be dealt. But I wouldn’t be too upset if he were back (Cameron was dealt for Xavier Nady in November in what was essentially a salary dump and by Opening Day 2006, I'd actually forgotten that he was ever with the team. That's how much of an impression Mike Cameron made on me in his 2 years with the team.).
Victor Diaz – B-
I’m not 100% sold on Diaz yet. He reminds me a lot of Pedro Cerrano from Major League. He will absolutely hammer fastballs, but he can’t hit a damn breaking ball to save his life, and he has a knack for showing some horrendous bat control. And playing full time, this was exposed to the point of embarrassment. Started off on a tear, but after a few weeks, pitchers caught up to him, and then he bounced up and down, and rotted on the bench for a while until Cameron got hurt. This may also have been a problem as he never really got a chance to work out his problems. Also, suspect in RF, but as the season progressed, and once it was determined that he would indeed play RF for the long term, Diaz’s defense improved vastly over the latter part of the season, so that rather than gasping and covering your eyes on a fly to right, now, you merely just hold your breath. He should work on it in the offseason, and I agree with Gabe, once he knows that he’s going to be at a single position for a full season, and can relax, I think the full package will come around. The key for Diaz’s future is learning plate discipline and not throwing his bat at sliders off the plate. Once he does this, he certainly has some major upside (I really had a major hard-on for Victor Diaz. In retrospect, I'm not sure why.).
Eric Valent – Finally, management wised up and got rid of this lunkhead. I wish him luck in his future career in the car wash profession.
Gerald Williams – Ice man back with a brand new edition…
(And we brought him BACK?????????)
Pedro Martinez – A
No, he wasn’t the dominant badass Pedro like he was in 99 and 2000, but we knew he wasn’t that pitcher anymore. I’ll admit, when the Mets signed him, I was very skeptical, but Pedro won everyone over pretty quickly with a blazing hot start and although he mixed good outings with bad, he would every so often whip off games like he did in LA and late in the season against Atlanta just to let you know he could still do it. He can’t throw 90 anymore, and on his bad nights he’ll barely crack 80, but so-so Pedro is a hell of a lot better than a lot of guys best stuff. And he is often symphonic on the mound because he’s such a smart pitcher, and he will often invent pitches on the spot, and throw them for strikes. His record would have been better, but half the time he got no run support, and the other half, Willie took his stupid pills and pulled him too early and the bullpen blew wins for him. Any talk of his imminent demise was obviously premature and I see no reason why he won’t be the same next year. Another big bat and a better bullpen and he wins 17-20 easily (Or he gets hurt. I still maintain that this was a risk/reward signing that the Mets had to make at the time.).
Tom Glavine – B
Languishing at midseason, Glavine somehow managed to reinvent himself and become a productive starter again. For the first time in as long as I’ve been watching him, Glavine actually IMPROVED in the 2nd half. Some early season bombings may still leave him with some ugly numbers, but for the most part, he pitched well and kept the team in a number of games, usually falling up short because of a lack of offense (a recurring theme).
Kris Benson – C-
Well, Kris made me look pretty brilliant early on with a string of great outings, and then for some reason inexplicably hit a wall in the 2nd half and made me look really stupid. For most of the season, I expected, and usually got a solid outing, 7IP, 2-3runs, 6-7 hits, 5 Ks, and a win. Then he just got hammered routinely in August and September. I don’t know what happened. Maybe Anna stopped putting out for him (I think it's safe to say that the Mets have gotten the better of this particular divorce.).
Victor Zambrano – C-
I think we can all say definitively now that, whether or not Kazmir does anything, that this was an absolutely asinine deal. When Zambrano pitched at Shea, they would play U2s “Vertigo” when he warmed up. And it was fitting, because he would give you vertigo every time he pitched. He was like Doug Sisk as a starter. He would get an out, walk, another out, a hit, and then one of two things would happen: He would get the strikeout, or he’d give up a long hit. And you could never be sure which. It’s like a passion play. You know that eventually, the shoe will drop. BUT, he willingly accepted a move to the bullpen, and never griped about it. But 10 minutes with Saint Rick Peterson was obviously not enough.
Aaron Heilman – A
Saint Rick went right with this one. Heilman came into the season as a major question mark, and will come away from it as either a future closer prospect or a fine mid-rotation starter. He changed his arm angle and somehow managed to resurrect his career. Also went through a long stretch in August and September without allowing a hit. Idiotically buried in the bullpen for most of the season, but he made the best of his opportunity and was actually one of the few people I could trust coming out of the bullpen (See, there was actually a point in time when Heilman was someone we wanted to see coming out of the bullpen. But remember, he also threw a 1-hitter as a starter that year, too.).
Kaz Ishii – F
Was there some earthly reason he was allowed to make 16 starts this season? Seriously. He would throw 4 shutout innings and then give up 6 runs in the 5th on a routine basis. And yet guys like Seo and Heilman were allowed to languish in no-mans land while this joker was throwing meatballs (I'm still steamed over those 16 starts.).
Jae Seo – B-
A true reclamation project, Seo basically came out of nowhere and reverted into the good Seo of 2003, and strung together a number of great outings. Before we get too excited though, remember that he tailed off late and he also shit the bed badly in 2004 after some success in ’03. I’d pencil him into the rotation, but he’s on thin ice (Seo would return as Duaner Sanchez in 2006. This worked for about half a season, but in reality, the deal was a wash.).
Roberto Hernandez – A-
A- simply for lasting out the season and pitching really well at age 63. After forgetting he was even in the league, he really carved out a niche for himself and had a great, solid season as a setup man. Still, I don’t know how much he has left, so we’ll see what next year holds, but with the way the bullpen looked at the beginning of the season, anything we got was gravy. And he gave us the gravy, the stuffing, the dressing, and the whole turducken (wait, I’m slipping into Madden-speak. Someone shut me up now).
Braden Looper – F
Successfully managed to combine the agita of the John Franco-era 9th innings with the slow sinking feeling of the Armando Benitez 9th innings. Also successfully became the first man in recorded history to blow 2 saves in one game. And this man had the audacity to come trotting into games with Trevor Hoffman’s “Hells Bells.” Wow. I mean, seriously. Wow. He made Benitez look kinda good (This is why we don't pitch hurt, kids. Further galled us with his behavior following the '06 NLCS) .
Heath Bell – C-
Pretty good mixed with embarrassingly bad and not much in between (Bell is similar to Dan Wheeler in the sense that Mets fans like to get all indignant because we gave these guys away and they turned out to be good in their new destinations. What we forget is that these pitchers were HORRIBLE WHEN THEY PITCHED FOR THE METS! Bell was 1-3 with a 5.59 ERA, 56H and 13BB in 46.2IP. Does this sound like the kind of pitcher you want on your team?).
Mike DeJean – F
Manny Aybar – F
When I found out he made the club, I smashed my head into my desk repeatedly for 10 minutes. You can still see the scars (I really did, too).
Jose Padilla – A
A for being amazingly reliable coming out of the pen, which was a breath of fresh air considering the dreck that was routinely being trotted out there. Also wore ridiculous yellow goggles which you have to love. I’d like to see him as a key setup guy next year (One of those "whatif" guys. He had a good head for pitching and it was kind of a shame that he kept getting hurt. I think he would have been useful.).
Dae Sung Koo – F
Takashi Kashiwada would have been better than this dunce.
Steve Trachsel – B
B because he came back from a nasty injury and fought his way into a crowded rotation. Fizzled out with some bad starts but also had some good once. Probably won’t be back but I wouldn’t mind having him as a back end of the rotation guy.
Danny Graves – F
There was an article in the Mets program in July or August about how happy Graves was to be in New York, and how he was looking forward to being a key part in a playoff push. We’re still laughing about that (This was a testament to just how bad the bullpen was in '05. Minaya was so desperate for someone who could get guys out on a regular basis that he was bringing other teams castoffs. The sad thing is, if he'd done that in '08, it might have made a difference.).
Royce Ring – C
I guess he was OK, but again, he never pitched. I don’t know what he is.
Jose Santiago – How’d he end up here?
Mike Matthews – Huh?
Shingo Takatsu – His most memorable moment with the Mets was when Seaver referred to him as “Shinjo Takatsu.”
Felix Heredia – I would like to thank Felix for getting hurt and missing most of the season, and therefore sparing me from having to deal with him all season, because we all know Willie would have trotted him out there no less than 70 games had he been healthy, and good lord I don’t want to think about what that would have been like.
Tim Hamulack – See Royce Ring.
Really, there are two major holes. The offense needs a major bat in the middle of the order, and the bullpen needs to be fixed before I shoot myself in the head. The rotation is fine, I think we have 6 or 7 quality arms to work with. We know that Pedro, Glavine and Benson will be back, so Seo, Heilman, Trachsel and Yusmeiro Petit, and maybe even Gaby Hernandez (who did throw a no-hitter in A ball this season) deserve looks for the remaining 2 spots. Heilman, as I mentioned, could also be a closer candidate. I do not under any circumstances want to see Billy Wagner signed here. That is a disaster waiting to happen (For the most part, I was way off on this assessment. When Wagner came into the game on Opening Day in '06, El Guapo turned to me and said, "So, this is what it's like to have a real closer.).
We’ll likely need a Catcher, unless, as I hope but will probably not happen, Mike Piazza returns. I agree that Hernandez is a good option, but not a great one, he’d likely do no better than solidly balance with Castro. Any of the Flying Molina Brothers would be the same. But if this is the best we can hope for, so be it.
There is a lack of sexy free agents as a whole this offseason, so there will probably be several trades to be made. Shore up 1B, 2B and C on the offensive side. Everywhere else is fine. Retain the key bench players (Anderson, Cairo, Woodward). I still like the idea of bringing in Furcal at 2B, he and Reyes would be one fun 1-2 punch. 1B is a bigtime question mark. I like Overbay, but he looks very pedestrian if you take him out of Milwaukee and especially put him in Shea. He’d still likely hit a lot of 2Bs. If Durazo is signed I will react in a similar fashion to Manny Aybar and my head cannot take that kind of a beating anymore. True, Konerko is available, and I like him, but I don’t like the idea of sticking a hitter like him in Shea. A deal would likely have to be made, but again, please don’t do anything stupid. If we can get a player the caliber of a Soriano or Manny, which I have the feeling Minaya is probably going to push for, I would not complain.
Finally there is the Bullpen and this area was so blatantly and egregiously neglected last season, which is why the pen looked like an old sock at the beginning of the season. This cannot happen again.
True, my observations are terse and rehashed, and I’m not offering much in the way of solutions, but this is the state the Mets find themselves in. There are always holes, but for some reason, this season the way to fill these holes is not as blatantly obvious as it has been in the past. I’ll say it again. Just don’t do anything stupid or reactionary. Keep the key pieces in place and we’ll go from there…I hope.
(It was a lot easier to look to the Free Agent market for solutions. I really didn't know who, if anyone, would be on the trading block, and for the most part, the 2006 Mets were built on several shrewd and smart trades, where Minaya took spare parts and prospects and turned them into the pieces that would carry the 2006 Mets to the Postseason. Wagner was really the only big-ticket FA brought in; guys like Delgado, LoDuca, Maine and El Duque were brought in by trades. Otherwise, Omar basically just struck gold with a lot of non-tendered guys like Valentin, Chavez, Bradford and Oliver. Whatever it was, Omar found that right mix in '06. But to this point, the Mets haven't been able to build on that season's accomplishments. In fact, looking back on it now, it seems like the Mets have basically come back to where they were in 2005: A hole at Catcher, Question marks at 2B and RF, and Bullpen issues that border on embarrassment. )